Volunteer since 1971 has no plans to stop
When Esther Lee, Grand Forks, started her volunteer career 37 years ago, her initial goal was to gain the certificate denoting 50 hours of service. That was more than 10,300 volunteer hours ago. "You get to the point where (time) doesn't matter a...
When Esther Lee, Grand Forks, started her volunteer career 37 years ago, her initial goal was to gain the certificate denoting 50 hours of service.
That was more than 10,300 volunteer hours ago.
"You get to the point where (time) doesn't matter anymore," she said.
What matters, she said, is the ability to meet new people, visit with the many people she's come to know over the years and to help out in whatever way she can.
Since 1971, Lee has been a volunteer at three Grand Forks hospitals: first Deaconess, then United, now Altru.
She's there every Wednesday to greet people with a smile as they walk up to the front desk from the hospital's main door.
Her volunteer responsibilities include sorting and delivering mail to different hospital departments, answering the telephone, telling people how to get to where they're going and sometimes, escorting patients to where they need to be.
Of course, she explains, her work is a lot more limited than it was in 1971.
Back then, Lee volunteered as a "surgery hostess," helping patients and sometimes filing insurance claims. Privacy issues restrict volunteers from access to any of those materials these days, she said.
Raised on a farm north of Valley City, N.D., Lee moved to Grand Forks in 1951. She married Ronald E. Lee, and they had three children, Sherryl, Bonnie and John.
Before Lee became a mother, she was a teacher. And when her children were old enough to go to school, she continued to work as a substitute teacher. But there was something missing, she said.
When she found an advertisement asking for volunteers at the hospital, she jumped at the opportunity.
"I just could not sit at home," she said.
And she's been volunteering ever since.
The activity became therapeutic, she said, after her husband passed away in 1982.
"I just love to be with people," she said. "And they treat me so wonderfully out here."
And Lee gives that care back to the people she works with.
"She's the most delightful person. I look forward to having her here every Wednesday," said Susan Stanley, who works behind the front desk at Altru. Esther helped her get through the early death of her husband, Susan said. And, "Esther adds a lot of sunshine, a lot of zip to the department," she added.
Dressed in a green smock with a white turtleneck T-shirt and white pants, Lee said fortunately, the volunteer uniform has changed. When she started, they wore pink jumpers with white blouses. "We were called the 'pink ladies.' "
Over almost 40 years, Esther said there's nobody at the hospital who was there when she started. "They've all retired or died," she said.
Lee, who will be 80 at the end of the month, has no plans to quit.
"As long as I can walk, I'll be here. I look forward to it every week," she laughed.
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